Last night, on the way to a colleague's birthday, I was talking about the ippr event on the public domain to another colleague who somewhat cheekily asked what I was doing at an event on the public domain when I work on corporate responsibility and sustainable development.
Fair question, really, as there may not seem to be an obvious connection.
The idea of a public domain is critical to sustainable development. That there are common resources and culture on which people can draw matters deeply.
The emergence of open source software has led to a number of less-affluent nations like Brazil and South Africa developing programmes designed to reduce reliance on proprietory software from other nations. Open source is often cheaper to implement and maintain too, reducing the barrier to accessing ICT applications for small businesses and local government.
Culturally, I would personally argue that common access to key items in our cultural heritage is essential for further cultural development (which has implications for the economy too) in the creation of new art.
It is in the artefacts of a common culture that we derive common purpose and our sense of place and history: without it, we are culturally bereft.
Businesses have a responsibility to balance the need for deriving profit from traditional business models, whilst constantly seeking new models that enable as much information - whether that is an obcure jazz recording long out of stock, or critical medicines or treatments - to be available in the public domain so that as many people have the potential to benefit from them. The balance is a difficult one as markets are changing as is technology.
The winners will be the businesses who recognise that taking a responsible approach to intellectual property and the public domain, seeking new business models, will be those that survive. Those that resist the changes will be forced to change ultimately, as surely as the film studios eventually accepted VHS and the record companies digital music.